QUORN, the meat alternative, is celebrating 30 years since it was discovered in Marlow.

Popular websites like My Space and Facebook have groups from We love Quorn' and Quorn is the best food ever invented' to I'd rather eat nothing than eat Quorn'.

It has even caused battles between vegetarians and vegans who were at loggerheads in 2004 when fast food giants McDonald's introduced Quorn to its menu. While vegetarians welcomed the new burger, vegans complained as they cannot eat it because egg whites are used as a binder.

Back in the 1950s people began to worry that we would suffer from a shortage of protein rich foods by the 1980s, so a search was launched to find alternatives.

Marlow-based company Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) set about investigating whether starch - a waste product from its cereal manufacturing - could be converted to a protein-rich food.

In 1967, after extensive research and screening, the filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum was developed, but it was only after a ten-year evaluation programme that RHM was given permission to sell the mycoprotein for human consumption in the 1980s.

It teamed up with Imperial Chemical Industries to produce Quorn under a joint venture named Marlow Foods Ltd, after the town where the discovery was made.

But while Quorn was popular in the RHM staff canteen, supermarket chains were unconvinced until Sainsbury's agreed to stock the products and they proved a hit, particularly with vegetarians and healthy eaters.

These days, Quorn ingredients such as burgers, sausages and mince plus ready-to-cook meals like pizza, lasagne and cottage pie are available across Europe and the USA.

Advertising campaigns for Quorn have featured sports personalities such as footballer Ryan Giggs, rugby player Will Carling and runner Sally Gunnell, and chef Delia Smith has endorsed the products.

The brand is worth more than $200million and Marlow Foods employs more than 350 people, although its offices are now based in North Yorkshire.